Tag Archives: Cuisine

King Cake

Text (traditional foods/folk belief)

“I bought King Cake one year. I thought it was just going to be a slice, but it was big enough for multiple people.”


My informant has attended the Mardi Gras parade twice and tried King cake once when she went with friends.

Q: “What is King Cake?”

A: “King Cake is a large type of cake in a circular shape but hollow in the middle almost like a rope that is decorated in icing and sugar of the Mardi Gras colors: green, gold, and purple. It typically has a tiny toy baby in the center of it that represents baby Jesus and is a symbol of a year of good luck and prosperity to whoever finds it in their slice”


King cake during the celebration of Mardi Gras is a collective ritual most people participate in to celebrate and participate in the cultural experience as well as hoping to find the plastic baby looking forward to prosperity in the coming year. Stemming from Frazer’s ideas of belief and sympathetic magic, this shows how non-scientific belief has an influence on the natural world implying good luck and warding off bad energy. It’s a form of homeopathic magic as “like produces like” or finding the baby Jesus produces good luck and prosperity. This custom is rooted in European traditions dating back to the Epiphany, a Christian holiday representative of the Magi visiting baby Jesus. Originally, a baby Jesus figure was hidden in bread and whoever found it would be king or queen for the day. After the spread of this tradition in New Orleans, bakers would add their own spin on the ritual varying decorations and selling the cakes during Mardi Gras season. The cake is very large and meant to be shared and eaten with others as a community bonding ritual that brings people together in celebration and festivities reinforcing communal cultural identity. This is an example of the ways folklore changes through time based on the cultural context of a community. Steering away from medieval societal structures, the context in which the toy baby Jesus was used changed from an aristocratic nature to an uplifting optimistic symbol of luck and prosperity brought by the baby Jesus. Also exemplary of religious folklore, this practice is a for Catholic belief to be communally shared, and enjoyed by festival participants bringing people together to cherish and understand more about the religious custom and how it has evolved through time.

Del o Jigar: Iranian Comfort Food

Context: I asked the informant if he wished to participate in the folklore project fifteen minutes after he had smoked a bowl of marijuana from a bong. He was extremely enthusiastic about participating in the collection project, but wasn’t sure exactly what I meant by “folklore.” I explained to him that it could be a traditional food that his parents make him, or something Iranian that he enjoys eating. His eyes lit up, and he slowly said, “Del o jigar.” I began recording, and asked him to explain what he meant by the term.


WD: What kind of foods do your parents make you? Like, what’s a comfort food that your mom makes?

DO: Actually, my mom hates this, but del-o-jigar. It’ basically cow liver, that’s jigar, and del is, like, ummm,  the heart or intestines of the cow. It’s something. They both taste really, really good.

WD: So, where would you get it? Would your mom make it?

DO: Well for me, its like, you know, that guy with a kind of dirty restaurant. You’re in Tehran, and you’re looking around, like, damn, I’m hungry. So you walk in, you smell the smells of the meat, it smells gamey, like kind of a funky meat. Just like some really cool stuff. Then, they take it off the skewer, a little lime juice, a little greens,  and a piece of bread… then grrrrrrr.

WD: Damn. So is that like, the equivalent of like a New York Slice, in a way?

DO: No, it’s like, street comfort food. It’s more like… it’s more like street tacos. In a weird kind of way. They even sell it here, I have a place I like.

Informant: The informant is a 19 year old, male Iranian-American USC student. He was raised in Los Gatos, California, and attended a private all-boys catholic school in San Jose, California. He has visited Tehran, Iran several times to visit extended family members, and has had this dish many times. He said that it’s better to purchase the food in Iran, but he occasionally buys it in the United States, as well. He informed me that it always reminds him of his heritage to indulge in the food, and when he’s feeling homesick, he’ll grab a bite to eat.

Analysis: Upon researching further, I found that del o jigar is the heart and the liver of the cow, roasted on a skewer and wrapped in taftoon, or flatbread. It is sold as street food in larger Iranian cities, such as Tehran. Historically, in Iran, cattle have been the basis for economic growth and expansion, holding deep significance in the traditional cuisine of the nation. Del o jigar is an extremely popular food to purchase while wandering the city of Tehran. The food is quick to make, relatively inexpensive, and can be made anywhere, making the food a near equivalent to a Los Angeles street taco.

“Duk Guk on New Year’s”

            Born in an agricultural town in South Korea, the informant shared the tradition of cooking and eating  떡국 (duk guk), a rice cake soup that sometimes includes dumplings called (mandu), on New Year’s day, or (Seollal). The informant explained that her first memory eating the soup was at the age of three, and it has since been so ingrained in her lifestyle that she has carried the practice over to America, where she and her family enjoy the delicacy each New Year. As the informant spoke about the yearly tradition, she was in the process of cooking dinner for her family, and she added that this felt natural to her because cooking in groups was often a social experience as well in Korea, when women could talk freely with one another.  


            We always eat duk guk on New Year’s. We always eat it for breakfast New Year’s morning. The tradition of making mandu in our family began when I was, eh. . .maybe seven or eight. It was always the women. The men usually gathered together in another room and drank and played cards. Duk guk is part of our inherited culture. Duk is, you know, long and a little thicker. . .it’s like a water hose, and when they actually make duk in a big kitchen or factory it’s almost as long as a water hose, too (the ones I bought at the market for you and your brother when you were kids are just always already cut up). But, when I was little we would take the really long duk home and after it hardened a little bit we would cut up in the oval shape that you see in the duk guk. The long duk symbolizes long life, which is why we eat it on New Year’s. Duk guk is made with beef broth, which we make first, and then we add the duk, and then the mandu, and then a little bit of egg, and finally we sprinkle thinly sliced seaweed over the top.

            The mandu that we put in the duk guk is a fun activity that allowed us ladies to get together. We make it in an assembly line style, and we assign who does what part depending on what they are good at―some people are better at mixing, or putting the stuffing in, or folding the dumplings. Making the mandu is where the cooks can get more artistic; each person might make them a little differently, and if you’ve been making mandu together for a long time you can tell who made what dumpling. During the mandu-making process we might be gossiping, or telling funny stories, that’s how it’s always been.

            The funny thing is that, in Korea, once you eat duk guk on New Year’s day, everyone gets one year older. So in Korea, you do not age on your birthday. . . everyone ages on New Year’s day. You might still have a small celebration on your actual birth date, but you earn one more year only on New Year’s Day. You get a year when you’re born―you’re already one year old, and then you get another year when you eat the duk. That’s why your Korean age and American age might be a little different. Oh, and didn’t I tell you? . . everyone eats duk guk.


            The informant’s description elegantly explains the reasoning behind why duk, the rice cake, is eaten on New Year’s. The combination of its symbolism of long life paired with the process of aging collectively on New Year’s in Korea shows that, in Korean culture, perhaps there is a muted emphasis on individual importance (i.e. a big birthday celebration for each person). This value is seen again in the dumpling-making process, as each person contributes to one dumpling, only able to express their individualism and talent in little, creative ways. The women, quite literally, expend equal amounts of energy during the cooking process, and thus the food presented to the men and rest of the family is a undoubtedly collective effort. The informant also emphasizes several times that “everyone” eats the dumpling soup, implying the link to a national identity when Koreans eat duk guk.

“Tamales on Christmas Eve”

            At a tender seven years of age, the informant shared a family tradition of eating tamales on Christmas Eve, which, according to her account, is a shared tradition among most Mexican families. Her mother’s side of the family is Mexican and has practiced the tradition through generations. Indeed, the informant described an annual large family gathering with such an excess of tamales that it feels like “forever” until the leftovers are finished.

            For the informant, it seems the tamales on Christmas Eve is a fun way to spend her vacation―she talks about how delicious the food is, her presents the next day, and the fact that school is on recess.


            Every night, uh, I mean before every Christmas night, we go to Nana’s. Actually, we used to go to Nana’s, but then she passed away. But we would go, and lots of people were there and we would make yummy tamales during the night and take them home!

            I don’t make the tamales, I just eat them. I’m not old enough; they don’t let me touch the things in the kitchen yet. Usually it’s just the girls, but sometimes my dad helps, too, and the other people. I don’t know all of them, just some, but there are lots. I didn’t know my family was so big.

            My mama said she did it with Nana when she was a girl, too, and that lots of Mexican families do it. I just know that we make so many tamales, like, so many tamales. Well, there’s rice and beans, too, but even when we bring them home we just keep eating the tamales the next day, and the next day, and the next day. . .it feels like forever. It’s still my favorite dinner though! We eat the tamales, and then the next day we get presents. Plus, there’s no school.


            Although some of the finer details may be absent from the informant’s narrative, in sifting through her account we can find some more thematic values embedded in the tradition. Family is clearly an important element in the Mexican Christmas Eve tradition. For one, the women gather together in the kitchen, presumably to “catch up” and bond through the cooking process. The informant mentions how so many family members gather together that she doesn’t even recognize them all. In that vein, her Nana’s recent passing seems to have made a significant impact on her family’s practice of the tradition. The informant did not provide information about where her family would make tamales in the future, but it is quite evident that the familiar setting of her grandmother’s home, a symbol of the stable matriarchy, is no longer accessible to her, further showing how integral family is to this tradition.

            Additionally, the theme of bountiful celebration is quite clear. The family makes so many tamales that guests must take them home, and even then the informant herself must eat tamales for days after Christmas Eve. While the rest of the year she and her family may practice moderation, tamales on Christmas Eve is clearly a happy abandonment of that principle.